Progressive Web Apps are the answer to Pakistan’s app problem

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January 23, 2019
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Pakistan is a very promising market when it comes to predicting app usage for the coming years. According to a UNDP report, Pakistan sports a growing population that has recently crossed the 200 million mark.

Interestingly, 64% of Pakistan’s population is under 30 years old with nearly 30% being in the ripe digital adopters’ age range of 15 and 29 years, as per a report by UNDP. Couple this with the fact that cellular penetration in Pakistan is over 75% with nearly 30% 3G/4G subscribers due to influx of affordable Chinese smartphone brands, lowering mobile data costs, increasing rural to urban migration, not to mention increasing awareness in rural areas about urban trends, Pakistan is slated to become one of the fastest growing markets for digital technology adoption.

So, what exactly is Apportunity?

What we are looking at here is a massive opportunity to market apps to a young population with access to high-speed internet and capability to navigate digital mediums. We can call this scenario “Apportunity” – the opportunity to market apps to a young, growing, digital-friendly and hugely-untapped user base.

The only place where Pakistan trails behind other developing economies like India and Indonesia is “download intensity”. What this basically means is that Pakistani consumers are downloading lesser new apps per capita, compared to India and Indonesia. This could simply be due to the fact that there are not tier-1 apps to go about in Pakistan and marketing for these apps is still subdued as the businesses have not entirely realized the potential of digital marketing and the role of apps. That’s the reason why most popular apps in Pakistan are WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and their derivatives like Chrome, Messenger, and Maps, instead first-party apps promoting local businesses.

Daraz, a case study for a successful e-commerce app

As far as ecommerce is concerned, Daraz is a good example of maintaining an app with an installed base of 10.7 million users and an year-on-year growth of 124%. Daraz is followed by a competitor that neither has any offices in Pakistan nor does it do any substantial marketing in Pakistan – AliExpress. AliExpress has an installed user base of 8 million users in Pakistan and a year-on-year growth of 120%, growing as quickly as Daraz itself.

Untapped ecommerce landscape

However, when we contrast YouTube in Pakistan with a user base of nearly 40 million with Daraz’s user base of 10 million and the rise of AliExpress in Pakistan without any marketing, we can clearly make out the ‘Apportunity’ present in Pakistan’s ecommerce landscape. While Daraz is the market leader and bringing ecommerce experience to the masses, the masses themselves start to look for other ecommerce apps once they get a taste for it. This is a massive ‘Apportunity’ in terms of organic app marketing and growth as the probability of being ‘found’ by an increasingly aware population is getting higher by the day.

VEON– a tale of ill-Planned Apportunity

However, while the Apportunity for ecommerce in Pakistan is huge, so are the pitfalls. We don’t need to look to far to find the biggest hit-and-miss in the ecommerce landscape of Pakistan – VEON. VEON launched with a massive marketing push in Pakistan in September 2017 and within a span of 3-4 months, it touched a peak of nearly 5 million app installs. However, VEON failed to convert first-time app installers into regular customers due to a variety of factors like an unstable app, lack of differentiating features with other more popularly available apps, the mismatch between marketing message and overall app value, etc. Due to this, the churn rate for VEON’s app was so much that by the summer of 2018, VEON registered more than 3 million app uninstalls. After all, with more than 50% of smartphones in Pakistan having less than 16GB of memory, the fight for space in the users’ phones is absolutely brutal.

The key learning from VEON’s case are:

  • Walk the talk – only promise what you can deliver consistently so always know what your USP is
  • Have a plan – getting quick subscribers with slick marketing is relatively easy but a game plan to keep those users engaged is a different ball game altogether

Does an app-only strategy suffice?

So, having an app-only will be enough for an ecommerce business in Pakistan? Not at all!

The solution is not to choose between app or the mobile web – the solution is app plus mobile web. The fact that the difference between YouTube app installs and Chrome browser app installs stands at just 2.5 million, we are looking at a user base that is equally present on apps and mobile sites. However, if we consider the aforementioned statistic that majority of smartphones in Pakistan have less than 16GB internal storage, we can easily deduce that the fight for a permanent space on users’ smartphones in the form of an app is a lot tougher.

PWA – the app in shining armor

So, what is the solution? Meet PWA – Progressive Web Apps.

Leveraging latest browser capabilities, PWAs work to deliver an app-like experience on mobile websites. While occupying an icon on the user’s phone, PWAs are simply the size of browser bookmarks but leverage caching capabilities for a superior offline experience. They have been successfully used by Indian ride-hailing service ‘OLA’ to increase tier-2 and tier-3 service usage by nearly 70%. Flipkart has also employed PWAs to increase conversion rate by up to 40% and time spent on site by up to 3 times!

There is no denying that the Apportunity in Pakistan for e-commerce businesses is massive. A combination of app and PWAs can deliver a successful 1-2 punch that wrests substantial market share from existing industry leaders like Daraz and AliExpress. The only things to keep in mind are to have clear-cut value propositions, a full understanding of the users, their struggles and their aspirations, and a fool-proof game plan to keep users engaged. It will be interesting to see how many businesses realize this Apportunity in Pakistan and jump into the e-commerce landscape. The territory is wide open for the taking!

About the author: Sayem Mustafa is a digital marketing and business optimization professional, a father, a cricket fan and author who loves technology and its impact on business. He has previously worked as a head Of AdWords and Performance Marketing at Daraz. He is currently associated with as their Head of Digital.

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